I am in a number of groups online that are for fitness for larger people (by varying definitions) that were created, and are moderated, by other people. Some are sports-specific and some are general. These are spaces that work to support people of all sizes and goals by making the space open to people practicing Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance as well as those who are attempting intentional weight loss.
To be clear I’m not complaining about the spaces existing – the people who create the space have the right to define it however they want, it was clearly explained when I joined. I let the weight loss posts go by without comment, I get useful information from discussions about gear for fat people (one group even helped me find my new tri-wetsuit which is the subject of a future post!) and I do activism by simply existing in these spaces as a fat person who isn’t interested in weight loss and does participate in fitness.
There are places where friction happens, one of which is an article in which a thin person wrote about his experience watching a fat person run around the Westview track. This started making the rounds a year ago, but it simply will. not. die. and gets posted in at least one group I’m in every month or so.
In this piece the writer uses negative language to describe the person’s body and movement, makes assumptions about everything from the person’s behavior (“Each lap you run, you’re paying off the debt of another midnight snack, another dessert, another beer”), to the intentions of their exercise (“You’ve started a journey that lasts a lifetime, and you’ve started it at least 12 days before your New Year’s resolution kicks in”), to their inner monologue (“Let’s go, feet. Shut up, legs. F**k off, fat.”)
He ends it by saying “If you’d only look up from your feet the next time we pass, you’d see my gaze has no condescension in it. I have nothing but respect for you.”
This typically gets posted in spaces for athletes of size by people who say it’s amazing and inspiring. And while people are allowed to be amazed and inspired by someone who thinks that his lack of condescension for a fat person running is so special and important that he needs to write about it, I believe that it’s actually an affront to fat people and I wish that this thing would die in a fire (and not just because the next thing posted is typically a response that is supposedly from the Fat person discussed in the piece but is actually by Tony Posnanski. a currently thin, formerly fat person who likes to pretend to be fat people, put words in their mouths and get lots of press for it while, in reality, silencing the fat people who are being oppressed. I actually think he means well but that doesn’t make his actions less effed up.)
Even more frustrating is when fat people point out ways in which this is very offensive, we get all the regular bullshit that we shouldn’t be so sensitive, that we should appreciate his attempt at inspiration, that we should just be happy he’s not fat bashing us etc.
People are allowed to be inspired by whatever they want, but to the people who insist that I should be inspired by “the fatty on the Westview track piece” or, worse, grateful to the person who wrote it, I would like to say this:
Screw this writer’s condescension, screw his assumptions and stereotypes about fat people who run, screw his assumptions that a fat person must hate their body and want to lose weight, screw the suggestion that fat people have to run to deserve to be treated with basic human respect, screw him thinking that his approval of a fat runner is so important that he has to write about it, screw the idea that we have to make a designation between “runner” and “fat runner.” Finally, screw the idea that I have any obligation to be grateful to someone who engages in appearance-based stereotyping and condescension, assumes that I hate my body and am exercising to change it, and wants credit for treating fat people (well, fat people who run) like human beings.
If you’re still struggling to understand why it’s offensive, I have a more detailed piece about that here.
Staying in groups like this and having discussions about things like this are part of my activism, they are also what drove me to co-create the Fit Fatties Forum with Jeanette DePatie. A space where people of all sizes can discuss fitness from a weight-neutral perspective with no weight loss talk, diet talk, food moralizing, or suggestion that people stereotyping or condescending to me is something for which I should be grateful.
We recently created a video to remind people that, while nobody is obligated to participate in fitness, the world of fitness is for Every Body who wants to participate. Enjoy!
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